By Carmen Balber, Consumer Watchdog
The largest methane gas leak in California history began more than four months ago and has driven residents with nosebleeds, vomiting, rashes, and dizziness out of 5,000 homes. Shouldn’t we know why, how and who caused the mess by now? Even though the leak has been capped there are many unanswered questions.
Despite 11 investigations and lawsuits started by state and local regulators and prosecutors, the public still doesn’t have any real idea what happened in Porter Ranch. That’s because Governor Brown issued an emergency order last month to lock residents and the public out of all proceedings until the findings are complete.
So we don’t even know, for example, if independent testing of the air has been done over the wellhead. That’s pretty important, since the Associated Press found Southern California Gas understated emissions of carcinogenic benzene from Aliso’s 1950s-era oil well.
When PUC investigations happen in secret, the utilities win and the public pays. After the San Bruno pipeline explosion, Pacific Gas & Electric was never held accountable for diverting ten million dollars in ratepayer money that was supposed to fix the pipes before the disaster occurred.
The PUC has independence that other agencies don’t which is enshrined in the state constitution. That whole concept grew out of the robber baron railroad magnates who owned the political machinery in California, which eventually wanted to break that stranglehold and create a watchdog for transportation companies and utilities. The PUC is morally corrupt, but eliminating that independence is not the way to go. The PUC needs extensive reform, yes, but it should not be downgraded to the same status as other agencies under the executive branch. Then the coziness and utility pressure on lawmakers will get even worse.
The nutshell is that the PUC operates in secrecy, obscuring the real reasons for tragedies like the PG&E pipeline blast at San Bruno that killed two, and the San Onofre debacle. The PUC does not demand and enforce safety at these utilities. It countenances lousy maintenance and utilities taking of shortcuts to save money. Then in too many instances it sanctions putting the majority of the costs onto ratepayers, instead of utility shareholders. It cancels investigations into the reasons why these things happen and who is responsible—that is what happened at San Onofre. We demand a public investigation of what happened at Aliso Canyon, instead of allowing the PUC to conduct yet another secret investigation under the blanket of the Governor’s declaration of a state of emergency.
Also, it appears that the PUC chose to concentrate on expanding natural gas production in California to make up for the lost generating capacity of San Onofre, the shuttered nuclear plant, instead of concentrating on how to make the existing natural gas system of lines and gas fields safe. The PUC approved a new compressor station at the Aliso field to allow a lot more injection capacity. It’s largely completed, but not running yet. That should not go forward under any circumstances until the integrity of all the wells is examined and its clear more blowouts will not ensue if you increase the amount of gas injected into those wells.
From Liza Tucker, Consumer Advocate, Consumer Watchdog
The public has the right to be involved every step of the way. Ask the PUC to put the “Public” back in the Public Utilities Commission and order a public investigation today.
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